I once asked my oldest Berlin friend to name her centre of city. ‘The Ku’damm,’ she answered without hesitation.
Her answer warmed my romantic soul. Was she recalling perhaps a candle-lit rendezvous at the Café Kranzler? Or a late-night stroll along Germany’s most famous boulevard, arm-in-arm with the man she loved? Or was she remembering (one can never really be sure with Berliners) her coming out in 1989 at the inaugural Loveparade?
‘Because it was there that I first rioted against capitalism,’ she told me, shattering my gentle preconceptions.
My friend paused for a moment’s reflection. ‘I can be even more specific,’ she went on. ‘My centre of Berlin is the place where Kurfürstendamm meets Joachim-Friedrich Straße.’
At the crossroads today is a less-than-revolutionary Saab dealership, a branch of the Commerzbank and the House of 100 Beers.
‘Because it was there that Rudi Dutschke – the youth leader who advocated for the overthrow of the Federal Republic – was shot in 1968.’
This summer Ku’damm is celebrating its 125th anniversary. Its origin dates back to the 16th century when Elector Joachim II ordered that a track be built between the Schloss and his hunting lodge. But it was Chancellor Otto von Bismarck who in the 1870s transformed the dirt road into a boulevard to rival the Champs-Élysées. The Kurfürstendamm was home to Berlin’s upper middle class up until the Second World War and then, with the division of the city in 1961, it became both the outpost and showpiece of western capitalism.
To celebrate the anniversary dozens of events will be held over the next months: arts and architecture tours, display case exhibitions, a Festival of Lights illumination. As motor vehicles have always been key to the Ku’damm’s identity (i.e. the city’s first steam-powered tram, American Graffiti-like Saturday night cruises during the Cold War and the great Trabant invasion of 1989) a special display of 125 vintage automobiles – linking the parallel anniversaries of the street and the invention of the car – will be held along the boulevard on 28/29 May.
Today the Ku’damm is a two mile-long temple to consumerism with high-rent retailers like Hermès, Rolex, Mont Blanc and Louis Vuitton doing their bit for gratuitous consumption. The ‘Gold Coast’s’ future also looks bright and glittery with the completion of the new Waldorf Astoria Zoofenster complex and the upcoming renovation of Ku’damm Karree by David Chipperfield, the gifted architect who turned the Neues Museum into the Europe’s most exciting museum building.
As part of the celebration, the public have been invited to post their own Ku’damm photographs on a dedicated website. ‘The Ku’damm is full of surprises,’ declares the site’s blurb. ‘Beautiful or ugly, bustling or laid back, modern or traditional, streamlined or pompous, commercial or individual, these photographs reveal some small part of this diversity.’
Diversity is essential. As I have written before, there is a real danger in Berlin – as the city gallops ahead with its latest reinvention – of homogenisation, that this dynamic, mixed and infuriating capital may – because of increasing wealth and spiralling property prices -- become more and more conformist. Some critics already consider Ku’damm to be no more than an overpriced strip mall.
To counter the threat of homogenisation, I hope that people will celebrate diversity when posting their personal Ku’damm photographs. Alongside the inevitable shots of beer-swilling visitors at the House of 100 Beers, let there be pictures of the 1967 protests against the Shah of Iran, anti-Pershing street battle snapshots and a portrait of Méte Eksi, the young man who was fatally wounded while attempting to mediate between arguing youths of different racial backgrounds in 1991.
Berlin’s dynamism has always depended on the co-habitation of extremes; along Ku’damm the Alternative List should live alongside the yuppies, squatters next bankers, radical politics above Prada. Help us to celebrate the great boulevard’s birthday by marking diversity. I’m certainly asking my old Berlin friend to post her pictures of her most traditional, most revolutionary corner of Berlin.
Donnerstag, 12. Mai 2011
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